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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 11, 2004

Kaho'olawe reaches another big milestone

With 45-mph winds whipping up red dirt and kiawe scrub, it's hard to imaging Kaho'olawe as a forested sanctuary. After more than a century of cattle grazing followed by 50 years of Navy bombing, this seared, uninhabited island may not be verdant for another couple of hundred years.

But it will heal, one plant at a time.

And if you think about it, there's really no rush.

Friday was the final day of the $400 million cleanup of unexploded ordnance on the former target island. Resentment is easy to nurture as this huge project ends, because $1 billion wouldn't have been enough to do the job.

Only 77 percent of the surface was cleared of ordnance, and of that area, only 9 percent was cleared to a level 4 feet below ground. Large portions of the shoreline haven't been cleared. All this fell short of expectations.

But the Protect Kaho'olawe 'Ohana members and others can take pleasure, after almost three decades of struggle, in seeing the Navy gone for good from the island — except that it has agreed to return if new bombs or dangerous substances surface.

Actually, last Nov. 11 was the day the Navy officially returned control of Kaho'olawe back to the state.

Now environmental restoration of the island moves into full gear, financed by the Kaho'olawe Island Reserve Commission's $30 million trust fund.

Parts of the island now will be usable for cultural activities, and that's an exciting prospect. But large parts perhaps should now be allowed to revert to a wilderness somewhat like what the first Polynesian settlers found there.

It'll take time, but now Kaho'olawe has all the time in the world.